Applying for a Building or Grading Permit 

1. Introduction

The following pages contain information to help you successfully submit an application for a building or grading permit. Our goal is to help you get your permit as quickly as possible. On this page we have tried to explain what you will need to submit, how to submit it, and who else may need to approve it first so that you can submit. Our physical offices are now closed to the public due to COVID-19, so all permit applications must be submitted online. Please read the information below carefully because your project will be delayed if you submit a permit application that is incomplete.

We have two ways to apply for permits: Permits by Email and our ePermits Center. All projects can be submitted via our Permits by Email process. Our ePermits Center is designed for contractors and repeat users applying for building permits for specified types of projects as described below. 

Please read the following information to decide which of these two processes is right for your project and learn how to successfully submit a permit application.

  1. PERMITS BY EMAIL
  2. ePermits Center

All projects can be submitted via our Permits by Email process. All projects that don’t fit the criteria for the ePermits Center must be submitted via Permits by Email. To use our Permits by Email process, you must fill out an application form and upload the necessary plans and supporting documents for your project. In the sections that follow, we will provide the information you need to successfully submit your building or grading permit application as a Permit by Email.    

If you are already familiar with our Permits By Email process, please click here to get started with your permit application. If this is your first time applying, or if you need clarification or more information, please continue reading below.


Did you receive a red Notice to Comply from a 
Code Enforcement officer?
All building permit applications submitted in response to a Notice To Comply must be processed through Permits By Email. Please continue reading for our current process and requirements for submittal.


2. Preparing to Submit Your Building Permit Application 

In this section, we will explain what you will need to gather before you submit for a building permit.

WHO CAN PULL A PERMIT?

The 2019 California Building Code allows for the following individuals to pull permits:

  • A State Licensed Contractor in good standing with the California State Contractor’s License Board (CSLB)
  • An Owner-Builder (including a Trust or Corporation) - This may require proof of ownership
  • Authorized Agent (including Designers or Architect) on behalf of an Owner-Builder or licensed contractor

For more detailed information, please see our Who can Obtain a Building Permit (PDF) page. For clarification about who an owner builder is and what is entailed, see the Owner Builder Acknowledgement and Verification of Information (PDF) form.


WHEN DO I NEED PLANS? 

Almost all projects require plans. These include, but are not limited to, new structures, demolitions, additions, alterations, interior/exterior remodels, running new electrical, water or gas lines, repairs, outdoor kitchens, pergolas, pavilions, decks, carports, garages, docks, pools, foundation repairs, ADUs, and  JR. ADUs, solar, energy storage systems, and backup generators. 

Important note: The Building Department conducts plan review and cannot give advice on how to create your plan. We recommend contacting licensed professionals when applicable.  


WHAT SHOULD MY PLANS SHOW? 

Most projects will require Architectural, Structural, Electrical, and often Mechanical and Plumbing plans. Many details and calculations are also required, often these include structural and Title 24 energy calculations. Your design professional is the best resource to help you have a complete submittal.  


PLAN SIZE AND FORMAT 

To be successful when submitting your plans, please pay attention to the following guidelines. Incomplete and incorrectly sized or formatted plans may substantially delay issuing your permit.

  1. Plans must be submitted in the same size they were drawn in to preserve scale, and should be of sufficient size and clarity for the project.
  2. Minimum plan size is 11x17; this may work for simple, small projects such as bathroom remodels or window changeouts. For legibility, however, most projects require larger plans such as 18x24 or 24x36. The size of your project determines the required plan size. All plans must show the property address, scope and current code cycle. 
  3. Plans must be an unsecured PDF File to allow for county comments, stamps and approvals. Secured files will be rejected. 
  4. Plans shall not be images, such as .jpgs, .gifs, .tiff, .bmp, etc. or AutoCAD (or similar) format. PDF files of images are also not acceptable – images made into PDFs do not scale properly (see note #1 above).

Please read Preparing Electronic Plans For Permits By Email (PDF) for further guidance.


WHO ELSE NEEDS TO APPROVE MY PLANS BEFORE I SUBMIT? 

  • You may need your plans to be reviewed and approved by other agencies prior to submitting your building permit application. This may include your city planning department and your local sanitary district or environmental health if you are on a septic system or have a well. What follows is a more detailed explanation of the planning and sanitary requirements. 
  • Please note that it is your responsibility to make sure you have approvals from all required agencies prior to submitting to the Building Department.


PLANNING APPROVALS

Planning approval is required anytime you are proposing to construct a new building or structure, or are making changes to the use, size, height, and dimensions, or other exterior changes to an existing building or structure. 

Unincorporated County:

  • The Building Department strongly recommends customers call 925-674-7200 to verify setbacks or other requirements prior to creating plans. Please visit our planning page to see the full scope of what our planning department covers.
  • Special areas such as Kensington and Historic Districts in the County may require a design review prior to planning approval. Please consult with planning before creating plans if your project is in these areas  
  • ADUs and Jr. ADUs have been steadily gaining popularity within the County. These units require Planning review. Please visit our planning page for guidance.


The Incorporated cities listed below require planning approval prior to submittal for building permit. Below are examples of when each city requires a building permit. Please contact each directly to verify their requirements and current process for approval stamps before you get started. You are required to upload the approved city planning application and approved plans in PDF format with your building permit application. 

  • City of Clayton: Currently any proposed change to the exterior of an existing structure, change to a building’s footprint and/or new structures require City approval. A business license is also required before permits can be issued. Please contact the City of Clayton for more information: 925-673-7300
  • City of Hercules: Currently any proposed change to the exterior of an existing structure, change to a building’s footprint and/or new structures require City approval. A business license is also required before permits can be issued. HOA approval may also be required. Please contact the City of Hercules for more information: 925-799-8244
  • City of Lafayette: All kitchen remodels, any proposed change to the exterior of an existing structure, change to a building’s footprint and/or new structures require City approval. Please see Lafayette’s Project Planning Checklist for details or please contact the City of Lafayette for more information: 925-284-1976
  • Town of Moraga: Currently any proposed change to the exterior of an existing structure, change to a building’s footprint and/or new structures require Town approval. Please contact the Town of Moraga for more information: 925-888-7040
  • City of Orinda: All projects that require a building permit require review and approval from the Planning Department, except for Projects Exempt from Planning Review. The Planning Department reviews projects to ensure zoning compliance with the Orinda Municipal Code. Please contact the City of Orinda for more information: 925-253-4210
  • Please Note: Certain projects may also require approval from city Public Works departments or other city agencies


SANITATION APPROVAL

Certain projects require approval from your local sanitary district. If your property has a septic system and is not served by a sanitary district, you may need to contact Environmental Health Services prior to submittal. Sanitary District staff will review the project plans to ensure there will be no adverse impacts on the sanitary sewer system and no encroachment into a sanitary sewer easement. Please see our Sanitary Districts (PDF) page to determine your district and specific requirements. 

The following projects require sanitary or environmental review:
  • New residences, ADU’s and commercial buildings.
  • Any project that includes excavation work for a foundation or pier, or which upon completion would prevent access to sanitary sewer facilities for routine maintenance and repairs. Examples include new structures, demolitions, additions, pools, decks, outdoor kitchens, outdoor fireplaces, retaining walls, cabanas, ground mount solar systems, pergolas/trellises/pavilions/gazebos, and carports
  • Residential additions/remodels with new fixtures requiring new drains or new fixtures that will increase the rate of flow into an existing plumbing system served by a sewer or septic system. 
  • All commercial tenant improvement projects will require sanitary approval whether or not plumbing is a part of the project.
  • New or modifications to public pools or spas.
  • Properties with septic systems which are not served by a public sewer.
  • Additions on properties that contain a septic system must be reviewed by Contra Costa Environmental Health.

3. Submitting a Building Permit Application

Once you have your plans in the proper format and size, and have obtained the necessary approvals from other agencies, you are ready to apply for a building permit.

Click Here to Apply

See Section 5 below for a step by step guide for how your permit application will be processed.


4. Submitting a Grading Permit Application

Applicants for a  grading permit use the Permits by Email process. The requirements to apply for a grading permit are the same as for building permits as described above.

A grading permit is most commonly required if:  

1. Excavating greater than 5 feet deep or more than 200 cubic yards.  Note: (50 cubic yards in the cities of Lafayette, Moraga, and Orinda)  

2. Placing fill to support any structure, fill deeper than 3 feet, or more than 200 cubic yards.  Note: (50 cubic yards for the cities of Lafayette, Moraga, and Orinda)  

3. Per County Ordinance Code Section 716-4.202-204, other conditions may also trigger a grading permit.  Note for all grading permits involving 1000 cubic yards or more, nearby neighbors will be notified prior to permit issuance, see County Ordinance 716-4.202 (e).  

When you apply for a grading permit you will need the following information: Plans and specifications  prepared and signed by a civil engineer or architect (unless waived by the county building official for small and unimportant work), and containing the items set forth in County Ordinance Code Sections 716-4.602 – 608

Click Here to Apply


5. Processing Steps for Permits By Email

Step 1

Click here to complete your permit application form. This form will be automatically emailed to us upon completion.  When completing your application form, you will be prompted to upload your plans (if required) and any other supporting documents. Please note that all documents must be in PDF format. Follow our guide on Preparing Electronic Plans for Permits by Email (PDF)

Download the free Adobe Acrobat Reader PDF viewer 

Step 2

Staff will vet your application within 4-5 business days and either accept or reject it. If deemed complete, you will be notified who your plan reviewer is. If your application is rejected, we will contact you by email with instructions so that you can successfully complete and resubmit your application.

Step 3

Your assigned plan reviewer will review your uploaded documents for compliance with State and Local codes. Your plan reviewer will then let you know if you need to submit any corrections, clarifications or additional documents.

Step 4

Larger projects require a plan check fee at the beginning of the plan check process. We will email you instructions for paying online on the ePermits Center website. Credit card and e-check payments are accepted online. After we have confirmed your payment, plan review will begin on your project. See How to make a payment (PDF) and How to make a payment video

Step 5

The review process may take several iterations of communication between applicant and plan reviewer. All communications and responses during the plan review process will be by email or phone only. If we have comments on necessary revisions to your plans, we will email those to you as well as a link to upload your revised documents.

Step 6

Once your plan reviewer has confirmed compliance with all State and Local codes, your permit will be ready to issue. Staff will contact you to pay the balance of your permit fees. See How to make a payment (PDF) and  How to make a payment video

Step 7

After payment has been confirmed, you will be notified by email to download your permit card and approved plans. You will be required to provide a printed copy of the permit card and full size approved plans at the permit site.


Resources for Contractors and Owner-Builders

Depending on your project, you may need to submit supporting documents with your plans. Common examples include debris recovery forms, drainage plans, geotechnical reports, engineering calculations, Title 24 Energy calculations, and checklists for generators and solar systems.

Less frequently used forms include:


Revisions After Permit Issuance

  • Submit the revised sheets to your plan reviewer. Clearly indicate the permit number, address of job site and best contact information in your email. 
  • Submit RFI’s and Deferred Submittals to your plan reviewer. Clearly indicate the permit number, address of job site and best contact information in your email. 


Contact Us

Contact us at 925-674-7200 for questions on your project. Thank you for your patience as we transition into our all digital permitting process.